Five sun safety tips

I love being outdoors, whether biking, hiking, gardening or relaxing on the deck. Sunshine makes me happy. Protecting my skin to prevent skin cancer also makes me happy! I want to share five sun safety tips to help protect your skin too.

May is Skin Cancer Awareness Month so a great time to pause to learn how to protect yourself. Skin cancer is the most common form of cancer, with over 5 million Americans diagnosed every year, according to the American Cancer Society.

Consider these statistics:*

  • About 90 percent of non-melanoma skin cancers are associated with exposure to ultraviolet (UV) radiation from the sun.
  • On average, a person’s risk for melanoma doubles if they have had more than five sunburns, but just one blistering sunburn in childhood or adolescence more than doubles a person’s chances of developing melanoma later in life.
  • More than 419,000 cases of skin cancer in the U.S. each year are linked to indoor tanning.
  • An estimated 196,060 cases of melanoma (the deadliest form of skin cancer) will be diagnosed in the U.S. in 2020 and more than 6,800 will die from it.
  • Risk of skin cancer can increase with a family history of it.
  • While melanoma has become one of the most common cancers in young adults, especially women, skin cancer is one of the most preventable cancers.

Be your own advocate – protect your skin

I share a lot about my bone cancer and breast cancer journeys, but in between those treatments, I also faced melanoma. Several years after my bone cancer treatment ended, I noticed a mole on my calf looked odd. Turned out to be early stage melanoma. Thankfully, surgery removed everything and no other treatment was needed. I regularly see a dermatologist to ensure my moles are closely watched. I’ve had many biopsies since that time, with several coming back as abnormal or borderline ‘ready to change.’ While I don’t like the surgeries or scars, I’d much rather be proactive.

Two years ago my younger sister noticed a changing mole and was proactive in seeing her doctor. She was diagnosed with invasive melanoma. After multiple surgeries, she thankfully is healthy. Our family is, of course, pretty proactive about protecting ourselves from skin cancer.

Two melanoma survivor sisters

A regular, simple care routine that includes sun safety tips can lower your risk of skin cancer. Here are five sun safety tips:

Wear sunscreen.

I’m admittedly a tad obsessed with sunscreen. My goal is to end Michigan’s summer with zero tan lines and the same pale skin tone as winter. Between hundreds of miles on the bike and hiking trails, plus gardening, hanging at the pool and all the other activities, it takes effort to remain a pretty pale color! Regular use of SPF 15 or higher sunscreen reduces the risk of developing melanoma by 50 percent (make sure it protects from UVA/UVB rays). If you’re outside for a long time, consider a water-resistant, broad- spectrum (UVA/UVB) sunscreen with SPF 30 or higher. People often forget to make sure that makeup and lip balm have sunscreen too. And don’t forget to apply sunscreen to the back of your neck and tips of ears if those are exposed. Don’t skimp on applying! Use a generous amount.

Cover up.

Great clothing options are now available with SPF and UV protection, and lightweight enough to wear during warm weather. I have a few SPF long sleeve shirts I wear while hiking that block the sun, yet still keep me cool during activities. I also purchased sun sleeves to wear cycling. Don’t forget sunglasses to protect your eyes. Wearing a hat can also protect your face and more.

Look for shade.

The sun’s rays are strongest between 10am-4pm. I like to plan my outdoor activities, such as hiking and biking, for early morning or evening. You can also enjoy the outdoors in the shade too. Look for trees to sit under, bring an umbrella or hang out in shady areas. Keep in mind that sun can still get through the trees and more so still wear sunscreen.

Avoid tanning beds and lamps.

A base tan does not protect your skin from sunburn. Any change in your skin’s color is a burn. More people develop skin cancer because of indoor tanning than develop lung cancer because of smoking.

Skin checks.

I see my dermatologist every 3-6 months for a skin check. This is due to my health history so probably unnecessary for most people. However, everyone should have an annual skin check, especially if you have a family history of skin cancer. Your primary care doctor can do this, or schedule an appointment with a dermatologist. As with anything, you are your own advocate so do your own skin checks – look for new, changing or unusual moles.

These five sun safety tips are just a few things that work for me. Talk to your doctor about what works for you. Stay safe in the sun!

Learn more about Skin Cancer Awareness Month, including resources and how you can spread the word.

Sources: American Cancer Society, Centers for Disease Control & Prevention, National Cancer Institute, Skin Cancer Foundation

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